VIP Humanitarian Rescues

Former President Jimmy Carter is preparing to go to North Korea as a private citizen to secure the release of an American man imprisoned for illegally entering the communist nation, but the State Department wouldn't go into many details.

"This is what civilized countries do. Citizens who are in our care and not guilty of any wrongdoing get returned to their host countries," said State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley Tuesday.

Choosing his words carefully, Crowley added, "we do not want to jeopardize the prospects for Mr. Gomes to be returned home, by discussing any details related to private humanitarian efforts to get him released and back here safely to the United States."

American Aijalon Mahli Gomes is from Boston and has been in North Korean custody since his arrest January 25. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $700,000. Earlier efforts by American officials to win his freedom were unsuccessful.

Crowley defended private humanitarian efforts to return U.S. citizens detained abroad, a diplomatic move the U.S. has used often. "There was one instance in particular, where through a private humanitarian mission we were able to secure the release of two journalists held captive in North Korea," Crowley explained.

The Carter trip will be the latest in a series of rescues by former U.S. presidents. Last year, Bill Clinton brought two American journalists home from Pyongyang, where they had been jailed for entering the country illegally.

This is not Carter's first visit to North Korea to try to influence the government there. He and his wife, Rosalynn, traveled there in 1994 when he attempted to make a deal to end the country's nuclear weapons program.

Crowley said the U.S. continues to try to secure the release of the three American hikers detained in Iran. He said officials are urging Iran to do the right thing, and are open to another private humanitarian effort if asked. "If Iran offered us the opportunity to send a private individual to Tehran to secure the release of our three hikers we would welcome that opportunity."

There is speculation New Mexico governor Bill Richardson could become part of the VIP rescue team. Richardson is currently in Cuba on a state-trade visit. He is expected to discuss the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor detained for the past nine months. State officials briefed the governor last week on Gross, and encouraged him to bring up the release while in Havana.

"I wouldn't say any efforts are intended to send any kind of a message to another country, repeated Crowley. "We, the United States government, take care of our own citizens, and where we have individuals incarcerated, we support them, and where it's appropriate we seek their return to the United States."

Tune in tonight to Special Report at 6:00pm ET for more on this story.

Fox News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.